Paying a price

First, the obvious. Women make up the bulk of the book industry workforce but they don’t benefit to an equal degree to their male colleagues from promotion and pay. The gender pay gap reporting has spelled this out and the fact that it’s a pattern widely shared by other industries will not assuage the anger and frustration felt by women staffers seeing their disadvantage properly quantified for the first time.

"We have more to do," is a phrase that has been used several times by companies announcing their pay gap data. Dead right.

That there are limitations to what the data can tell us is also true. How a company reports—in particular whether a distribution wing, with its very different gender make-up and salary scale, is included or not—means comparing some of the headline stats without context is like comparing apples and pears. That has become increasingly clear over the past two weeks as more reports have been posted. Detail and nuance is also in short supply.

But what is plain, despite variations, is a broad industry pattern which consistently sees a concentration of men in the highest-paid quartile, with men given a disproportionate share of the most senior, well-rewarded roles and the bulk of the pay gaps firmly in their favour. Many, though not all, of the reports also show an over-representation of women in the lowest-paid quartile.

Suspicion about the reasons for this is rife, as responses to The Bookseller’s pay gap survey show. Are men being over-promoted through unconscious bias? Is the work of departments traditionally dominated by women—say, editorial or publicity— systematically undervalued? Is there a "boys’ club" at the top, protecting its interests?

Dismissive and inflexible attitudes to parents who choose to work part-time? Rightly or wrongly, these are the conclusions being drawn. If the industry wants to regain staff trust, it must provide more transparency on pay grades and promotion processes, on how contribution and reward will be measured, and on career progression strategies that are fair to all.

Publishing can claim a head start: the promotion of women to the top levels is a target of the Publishers Association’s Inclusivity Action Plan (at least 50% of women in senior leadership positions and executive level roles). Now senior publishers—who have been assiduous in monitoring The Bookseller’s coverage for fairness and balance—should turn their lens inwards and look to put their promises into action. And staff, of all genders, should feel free to channel the spirit of errant Handmaids and Rebel Girls in holding their employers to account.